What are some upcoming trends for the next year?
The ongoing rediscovery (at least to straight white guys) of just how essential diversity is to a healthy society; the similarly ongoing, and growing, acceptance of socialism among younger Americans. Veganism as a mainstream phenomenon (as opposed to a fringe movement). The boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement is here to stay; shifting attitudes toward Israel among middle-of-the-road politicians.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
More short, hard-hitting nonfiction by women of color.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
I am tired of “wherefore the Trumpapocalypse.” We’re in it, let’s fight it, let’s defeat it, enough meditating on why it’s here.
How do you work with self-published authors?
While we’ve never worked with a self-published author, I wouldn’t rule out doing so in the future. Writers have to understand that we’re committed to a progressive outlook and we primarily sell paperbacks and e-books direct to people who buy from our website—as a consequence, our publishing process is a cooperative one. We as publishers are responsible for all aspects of production and distribution, but marketing depends as much on authors’ ability and willingness to promote their own books as on our promotional efforts.
What do you want to change about publishing?
The brutal domination of Amazon in all things. The stranglehold of big houses on reviewers—the inverse of that is reviewers’ snobbism and the insistence that for a book to be “real” it has to be sold in bricks-and-mortar stores. The disdain for e-books. The myth that e-book reading is declining (it is for big houses, but overall it is not). The dysfunctional distribution system (high discounts and high returns) in place in traditional publishing—and as a subset of the preceding, the “need-blind” ordering policy (store buyers place orders based on the instincts and marketing muscle of publishers as opposed to the actual interest of readers). The gap between publishers and consumers. Did I mention Amazon’s heavy hand?
What’s unique about your corner of the publishing industry?
We will sell to stores but only if they pay up front and take books on a nonreturnable basis. The heart of our business is selling directly to consumers via our site, and we were one of the first to do so. And we make a straightforward commitment to a progressive political outlook—in that regard, we certainly are not unique, but I doubt there’s another small lefty independent with a comparable emphasis on selling directly.
Anything else you’d like to add?
It’s a thrilling time to be in publishing despite (or perhaps because of) its volatility.
John Oakes is co-publisher of OR Books. He is also publisher of The Evergreen Review (www.evergreenreview.com) and is the founding director of the New School Publishing Institute in New York City. His essay “Publishing and Culture: The Alchemy of Ideas” was included in The Oxford Handbook of Publishing (edited by Michael Bhaskar & Angus Phillips, 2019), and he is currently at work on a book about fools and clowns.